Better Living Through World Government: Transnationalism as 21st Century Socialism

James J. Hughes PhD
30 min readMar 17, 2022


Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash

by J. Hughes

Published by Chicago DSA, 1991

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In 1991 I was 30, and working on my doctorate in Sociology at the University of Chicago. UChicago DSA had just led a coalition of progressive student groups — the “Alternative List” — in taking over the student government. I was a little over-extended, serving as an editor for the YDSA journal, as political education director for Chicago DSA, and founder/editor of the DSA Environmental Commission ‘zine EcoSocialist Review. John Mearscheimer was teaching at UChicago, and his views on the benefits of mutually assured destruction were the goad for me to formalize what I saw as the relationship between world federalism, democratic socialism and the “European Project.”

I published this as a Chicago DSA pamphlet, when I should have tried to get it into a policy journal, or at least a left publication. This is a clue to my lack of success as an academic.

But since I’m now a futurist pundit, I think its aged very well. I’ll work on an update.

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Dr. Mearscheimer: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

It’s difficult to be a right-wing ideologue nowadays. In fact, it now requires a Ph.D. to come up with those truly radical ideas that make waves in policy circles. Ideas like: General prosperity requires tax cuts for the rich, while Income support for the poor is bad for the poor. Or U.S. support for human rights and democracy requires the military defense of the monarchies of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, “quiet diplomacy” in China and South Africa, support for terrorism in Nicaragua and Angola, and the invasion of Panama and Grenada. Or Forcing women to bear unwanted children strengthens the family.

If you are particularly skillful at this kind of argument you will find yourself teaching in a prestigious university and courted by the State Department for your latest insights. Recently the University of Chicago’s Political Science Department’s John Mearscheimer achieved this lofty status. His self-acknowledged “controversial” prescription for post-Cold War security is that peace in Europe requires that the U.S. give nukes to Germany. He comes to this disturbing conclusion by rejecting optimists’ projections of a peaceful post-Cold War democratic Europe.

Instead Dr. Mearscheimer sees a coming proliferation of potential conflicts in Europe, once nations are freed from the stabilizing influence of U.S. and Soviet control. Only the mutually assured destruction among, at least, Britain, France, Germany and Russia, can ensure that Europe is not riven apart.

Dr. M acknowledges that no one in the entire world (except the German far right) currently sees the idea of German nukes with anything but horror, and that it is extremely unlikely that Germany would get nukes in any situation but world war. In fact, it is unfortunate that so much criticism has focused on this aspect of Mearscheimer’s argument, since his political importance really lies in what we are offered as the next best alternative if we are so foolish as to reject German nuclear armament. The wizards at the U.S. State Department are orgasmic about Mearscheimer’s vision because he asserts that the U.S. must maintain its military occupation of Europe if we want to forestall German demands for its own nuclear deterrent; we have to maintain our “nuclear umbrella” over them. In fact “the United States should not withdraw fully from Europe, even if the Soviet Union pulls its forces out of Eastern Europe” (Mearscheimer, 1990:4)

While some may find Mearscheimer’s popularity frightening, I have enjoyed his fifteen minutes of fame for three reasons. First because I am assured that no foreseeable political process in Europe would allow Germany to acquire nuclear weapons. The second reason for optimism is that the absurdity of Mearscheimer’s ideas makes what I am about to argue seem sane and realistic. And thirdly because the very hint that the U.S. is considering giving nukes to Germany will accelerate the building of a post-NATO-Warsaw Pact alliance within which the U.S. will have a much smaller part.

Peace is Not Inevitable

Mearscheimer addresses four arguments of optimists about peace in Europe, only to bat them aside in favor of his sad conclusion. These four optimistic scenarios hold that peace can be/is being guaranteed by a) growing economic liberalism and interdependence in Europe, b) growing democratization, c) European horror at war, and d) the growth of a European super-state.

The libertarian argument holds that the dropping of trade barriers within the European Economic Community will create such economic interdependence that military competition will abate. Mearscheimer rightly points out, however, that Europe was economically interdependent before both World Wars, and that the U.S and Soviet Union have been “peaceful” for 50 years while remaining economically independent.

The democratization argument holds that democracies do not go to war with one another. Mearscheimer again rightly attacks this argument on the grounds that democracies have historically been just as willing to go to war as dictatorships, particularly when they become inflamed with nationalistic passions. He even cites the U.S. intervention to overthrow the elected governments of Chile and Guatemala as evidence of democratic belligerence.

Again, he rightly derides any faith in Euro-pacifism as only a weak “secondary” historical force, which can be swept away with time and perceived necessity. The re-emergence of nationalism, German and otherwise, he sees as inevitable, and of some concern. He argues that “the United States should take steps to forestall the re-emergence of hyper-nationalism in Europe” (Mearscheimer, 1990:4).

But Mearscheimer holds to a “structural determinism” about military conflict which largely dismisses the influence of factors such as pacifism or nationalism. Conflict can be predicted solely on the basis of who has how many weapons, and of what kinds, which is in turn predicted by their economic strength. If there are “accomplished hegemons,” i.e. empires, there is no problem, or if there is a multi-polar situation where no one power can defeat the others there is no problem. War is assured, however, when there is an uneven “geometry of power” that encourages an “aspiring hegemon” to attempt to become an accomplished hegemon.

All of this is fairly convincing. War in Europe, and the end of civilization as we know it, are still both possible outcomes of the 1990s. The weakness of Dr. M’s argument arises, rather, from the nation-state blinkers he wears in interpreting the “geometry of power,” and the possibility of the “super-state” scenario. He ascribes this hope for European political and military unity to a minority of the economic liberals who expect that integrated economies will give rise to transnational political structures. Never once does he mention that the “common security” argument for a strengthened European political and security structure is being advanced by Gorbachev, Mitterand, Kohl and the entire mainstream of European politics. Never once does he mention the proposals for the scrapping of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and the building of a bigger, better security apparatus that would be able to forestall intra-European conflicts.

Dr. M is like a man looking at the “geometry of power” in the United States and arguing that California should be given nuclear weapons commensurate with its economic size in order to forestall aggression from the nuclear powers of Utah and Nevada. The “geometry” of force is determined not simply by where weapons are, but what political forces control them. By rooting himself firmly in the nation-state geometry of the first half of the twentieth century he is blind to the transnational geometry of the twenty-first century.

In fact, all of Europe’s problems, not just collective security, require the strengthening of the existing infrastructures of European governance, and it is precisely this option which Mearscheimer and his fellow rocket-scientists in the State Department would like everyone to ignore. For the building of a “Common European Home,” governed by a strengthened European Parliament, and protected by a European military, spells the end of U.S. hegemony and the growth of twenty-first century socialism.

Socialist Internationalism

Socialists must be internationalists even if their working classes are not; socialists must also understand the nationalism of the masses, but only in the way in which a doctor understands the weakness or illness of his patient. Socialists should be aware of that nationalism, but like nurses, they should wash their hands twenty times over whenever they approach an area of the labour movement infected by it.

Isaac Deutscher Marxism in Our Time

The idea of peace and prosperity through international integration is as old as the first empire. From Pax Romana to the Third Reich there have been authoritarian transnationalists. Democratic transnationalism, on the other hand, has been closely tied to the socialist and anarchist movements since its emergence in the eighteenth century. Visionaries saw men dying for the rich and powerful, and asked why we didn’t just dispense with nations and kings, end the parasitism of the leisure classes, and share all things in common. This was the vision of the International Working Men’s Association, formed by Marx, Bakunin and the rest in 1864. Its inauguration declared:

The emancipation of labour is neither a local nor a national, but a social problem, embracing all countries in which modern society exists, and depending for its solution on the concurrence, practical and theoretical, of the most advanced countries.

Marx and the other Internationalists were sure that revolution would break out first in the industrialized nations, whose workers would unite in “proletarian internationalism.” These “advanced sectors” would then take on the development of the more “backward nations” in a global commonwealth. As the parties of the Socialist International began to struggle for power through the electoral process at the turn of the century, they continued to have faith in the natural unity of all working people in the coming world revolution.

But socialist faith in proletarian internationalism was crushed in World War One as the majority of Socialist parties supported their countries in this “inter-capitalist” war. And shortly thereafter, the Russian revolution crushed the Marxist dogma of a stage theory to revolution: the “backward” Russians were supposed to be liberated by the “advanced” Germans. In fact, Lenin and Trotsky fervently hoped that German socialists would have a successful revolution, and come to the rescue of the Russian revolution. When the German revolution failed, so did the usefulness of Marxist orthodoxy. Out of the failures of proletarian internationalism came two new visions of internationalism, bourgeois and Communist.

Bourgeois internationalists created the impotent League of Nations and other institutions for elite internationalism without actually creating any of the infrastructure of collective governance. Nonetheless the efforts of the bourgeois internationalists were backed by pacifists and world federalists who hoped for a gradual, peaceful evolution to arms control and world government. After the failure of the League of Nations, bourgeois internationalism was born again in the creation of the much stronger United Nations, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the World Bank. Again, a number of liberal internationalist organizations have rallied to support these institutions, from the elite Council of Foreign Relations and Trilateral Commission, to the utopian World Federalists.

Communist internationalists, on the other hand, dispensed with the “illusion” of a peaceful, democratic transition to world government under capitalism. In fact, Communists began to support struggles for “national liberation” from imperialism as a dialectical step toward international unity within a growing Communist bloc. For Communists, internationalism consequently became equated with absolute subservience to the Soviet Union; internationalism meant freeing nations from “imperialist” control and putting them under Soviet control. The rhetoric of “proletarian internationalism” was still invoked to justify Soviet support to Mao and other revolutionaries, but the Communist knives in the backs of Spanish anarchists, the treachery of the Hitler-Stalin pact, and the tanks in the streets of Berlin, Budapest and Prague, began to show how abstract this idea could become.

Even after Stalinism gave up any pretense to an internationalist mission, many radical internationalists continued to make the same mistake, simply switching their allegiances to China, Cuba, North Vietnam, Albania, or Nicaragua. This was often accompanied by the equation of internationalism with opposition to all U.S. foreign policy. Together, this equation of internationalism with blind obedience to foreign powers, and blind opposition to American foreign policy, helped cripple two generations of the Left.

The end of the Cold War has finally begun to free the Western Left from this tendency to define internationalism in purely negative terms, as “solidarity with the Third World.” Instead the Left can now join the liberal internationalists in the struggle for a “New World Order” of global democratic governance. Unlike the utopian expectations of the early socialists of a spontaneous global brotherhood from below, today’s socialist internationalists can base themselves firmly in existing political trends, determined by underlying material forces.

Transnationalism: Utopian and Scientific

There is no salvation for civilization, or even the human race, other than the creation of a world government. With all my heart I believe that the world’s present system of sovereign nations can lead only to barbarism, war and inhumanity, and that only world law can assure progress toward a civilized peaceful humanity.

Albert Einstein

In his essay Mearscheimer gestures to sociological profundity by positing that future conflict can be predicted largely by the distribution of military force among nation-states. Most social scientists prefer a few more variables however. The three “material conditions” which I see determining the future course of geo-politics, and encouraging the growth of transnational institutions are: a) the need for arms control and collective security, b) the need to coordinate economic policy, c) the need to cooperate in ecological protection.

Arms Control

When Kansas and Colorado have a quarrel over the water in the Arkansas River they don’t call out the National Guard in each state and go to war over it. They bring suit in the Supreme Court of the United States and abide by the decision. There isn’t a reason in the world why we cannot do that internationally….It will be just as easy for nations to get along in a republic of the world as it is for you to get along in the republic of the United States.

Harry S. Truman

Like Mearscheimer, I see no reason to be optimistic about the prospects for peace in Europe. Since the lid popped off in the East, we’ve seen all the garbage that was buried under Communist authoritarianism for 50 years begin to rot again. Nationalism and neo-fascism are growing in all the countries of the East, and have had their corollaries in Western Europe for twenty years (UK’s National Front, France’s Le Pen), not least in Germany under Herr Kohl.

But it is precisely fear of German unity, nationalism and re-armament that has pushed Europe towards military integration. To allay Europe’s fears, the German Christian Democrats have already promised, as a condition for German reunification in the “two-plus-four” treaty, to renounce nuclear arms. Kohl has joined Mitterand in calling for a “political union” of Europe in 1992. The Social Democrats (the likely next government of Germany) have called for the creation of a new Europe-wide security structure replacing NATO and the Warsaw pact. The Green and Socialist alliances to the left of the Social Democrats both call for German disarmament and neutrality, which scares Germany’s neighbors a lot more than a Germany firmly integrated into Europe; the neutralist pressures on any future Red-Green German government would mean increased pressure to include Eastern Europe and the USSR within European economic, political and military structures.

The creation of a European security structure is encouraged not only by fear of Germany, and declining fear of the USSR, but by the decline of U.S. hegemony. The deployment in the Persian gulf clearly demonstrates that the U.S can no longer afford to be the world’s policeman, nor get away with military unilateralism. The Bush administration has been forced to rely on the United Nations and the material and military support of dozens of allies, and is now facing a rising chorus of complaint from its Right flank for excessive multilateralism. Like Mearscheimer, the far Right still thinks of the world in terms of an imperialist pax Americana, and denounces the talk of a post-Cold War “New World Order” as “the Wilsonian gobbledy-gook that we followed into the trenches of World War I” (Pat Buchanan in Washington Times, Aug 27). Moderate policy elites such as Paul Nitze, on the other hand, argue that the U.S. should now cede world leadership to “a coalition of powers upholding the principles of the U.N. charter” (Aug 26 Washington Post).

The end of the Cold War has made possible the strengthening of the U.N. Security Council, and an expanding role for U.N. forces in many international conflicts. But the defense of world security requires that the use of multi-lateral force extend beyond the simple defense of national borders against aggression, to the establishment and defense of democracy, human rights and self-determination within existing national boundaries. Palestine and South Africa remind us that the subordination of a people within a nation can be a cause of regional instability. U.N. forces have already been deployed to aid in the demobilization of the Namibian independence guerrillas, and the carrying out of free elections in that country. Even further, global security requires empowering the World Court to rule on the legality of nations’ laws and actions, to enact effective sanctions, and if necessary, to send in multilateral/U.N. forces to back up world law.

The possibility of united action in defense of human rights and democracy seemed utopian during the Cold War since the two superpowers had fundamentally different definitions of what democracy and rights were, the West being basically correct, and the East tragically wrong. Now the North, and a growing portion of the South, are united on the basics of multi-party democracy, freedom of expression and so on. On the basis of this consensus, multilateral action can now be taken to ensure true “self-determination” for all peoples, as opposed to simply “national sovereignty,” the fig leaf of monarchs and tyrants. Unfortunately, the majority of undemocratic regimes remain in the South, principally in Africa, the Mideast and Asia.

Consider the case of Haiti, where military terrorism has repeatedly aborted the democratic process since the U.S. evacuation of the dictator Baby Doc. Now the U.N. is considering the request of the new civilian government, chosen by the military, to send several hundred people, including armed peacekeepers, and $10 million to organize the next elections. But as long as the U.N. must wait to be invited by the dictators themselves to intervene to establish democracy, we can be sure that Haitis will be few and far between.

Unfortunately, ultilateral military intervention to establish democracy in Third World countries would inevitably be seen as imperialistic. In the near future, such action seems likely in only the most extreme circumstances, where civil order has completely evaporated such that none of the partisans have a credible claim to be the government, and have few outside sympathizers.

Liberia is currently such a situation, where, for the first time, African nations have united to establish a democratic process in a neighboring country. Of course, these nations face the major difficulty that they themselves are not democratic. As I will discuss later, the creation of strengthened transnational military requires that all the nations contributing to the effort are themselves democratic, a condition that met in Europe, but not in the U.N. Security Council.

Global Economic Crises

The new socialists must continue and deepen the beginnings made by the Socialist International under Brandt, and take the lead in an internationalist campaign to restructure not simply the world economy but its political structures as well. The New International Economic Order of the rich created after World War II was a conscious and ingenious work of the wealthy. It is time to include the poor in the process…

There are two critical principles in this undertaking. First, there is the understanding that a transfer of wealth and resources from North to South can lead to an increase in wealth and resources in both North and South. And second, the achievement of such a transfer requires the creation of new international political institutions for a rapidly integrating world economy that go far beyond anything put in place at Bretton Woods — and yet builds on some of the more visionary hopes of 1944…

Michael Harrington, Socialism: Past and Future (1989)

Communist regimes once argued that by joining the planned “socialist world economy,” coordinated by the Soviet Union and COMECON, that socialist economies could still develop without being part of global capitalism. After seeing the dismal experience of North Korea and China, some leftist non-Communist governments thought that they could develop by playing off the Communist bloc against the Capitalists for aid and trade. Still others hoped that by avoiding trade with either bloc, and banning imports, that they could use their domestic demand and resources to develop. All three models have proven to be failures.

The Third World has weighed the alternatives of impoverishment under Communism, impoverishment as an independent anti-imperialism, impoverishment in isolation, and impoverishment in the arms of global capitalism. They have chosen capitalism. Development requires trade and investment from Europe, Japan and U.S. But in joining the new global economy, these nations are also beginning to learn what Western socialists have painstakingly learned over the last two decades: Basic welfare state guarantees, much less socialism, are simply impossible on a nation-state basis any longer.

The global mobility of capital ensures that every country is held hostage to the demand that it lower its taxes and wages, and cut its environmental and worker protections, to the lowest level to be found in the world. This is what the Jamaican and Sri Lankan socialists discovered in the 1970s, what the French, Greek and Swedish Socialists discovered in the 1980s, what the East Europeans and Canadians are discovering in the 1990s, and this is what any elected American or Japanese socialist movement would discover in the next millennium. Try to do right by your people, and capital will run, professionals will emigrate, your people will be worse off than before, and you will be thrown out at the next election.

Some form of global economic management is assured. The real questions are whether it will be controlled by elites, like the “Group of Seven” meetings of the finance ministers of the seven most industrialized countries, or by relatively democratic institutions like the European Parliament and United Nations, and whether it will be in the interests of the relatively advantaged light-skinned nations, or of all nations.

As we slide into the coming global “recession,” there are two basic alternatives before us: (1) to create a new economic order for the North that maintains the status quo for the South, or (2) to build an order that tries to develop both North and South at the same time. Undoubtedly, we will muddle through with some combination of both. The task for the Northern democratic left, however, is to push toward the second option, and to push to make economic planning as democratic as possible.

Option 1 is pointed to by the economic unification of Europe, and the commitment of the West to a Marshall Plan to develop Eastern Europe and stabilize the Soviet Union. Since the Common Market was established in 1957, European nations have evolved a set of coordinated economic policies that recognize their interdependence and common interests. As they approach the complete elimination of economic barriers in 1992, this interdependence is ever more a reality. Rather than allowing the entire continent to slip into depression, the social democratic and Christian Democratic governments will likely institute a transnational Keynesianism, ensuring minimum wages and wage supplements for the poorer segments of Europe, to maintain demand for manufactured goods. Monetary policies will be centrally coordinated in Brussels, and public sectors expanded to absorb unemployment.

Option 2, however, is a vision of economic recovery through a global Marshall Plan, a global, rather than simply European, Keynesianism. Will Northern countries devote 0.1% or 1.0% of their GNP to Third World aid? Will the Northern countries penalize Southern nations that do not allow their workers civil and political rights, and thus artificially suppress labor costs? Will the International Monetary Fund and World Bank negotiate debt forgiveness, or force the poor in the South to repay money borrowed by dictatorships?

Global Ecology

In a recent review of campus Earth Day activities, the conservative University of Chicago journal The Crucible inadvertently pointed out the necessity of global governance for ecological management:

If America, in its state of collective guilt, makes it impossible for corporations to operate within its borders, they will relocate to other countries. The U.S. may have lost city smog and pollution, but we will not have solved the problem. Instead, we will have exported our factories to other parts of the world — presumably the Third World where government regulation is almost nonexistent. The corporations will continue to operate, dumping even more pollutants into the environment. The earth will continue to be polluted, and we will still feel the effects of global warming and an endangered ozone layer. Acting locally will not help the world environment or the United States. What we will have gained is an undeveloped land with unemployed citizens.

Scott Stirling, The Crucible May 1990.

World ecological demands require the building of powerful transnational regulatory and enforcement structures. In the right-wing scenario, these structures could be controlled by transnational corporations and First World governments, with policies that contribute to starvation and impoverishment in the Third World. In the radical scenario, these structures would be democratic, providing massive First World support for the Third World to shift to the “sustainable development” path outlined by Norway’s socialist Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, and the World Commission on Environment and Development in Our Common Future. But, either way, simple survival requires some form of transnational ecological management.

Again, the European Community points the way to the future, both because of the strength of left and ecological movements on the continent, and also because of the relative strength of Europe’s transnational regulatory structures. For instance, France’s Socialist Prime Minister Francois Mitterand has proposed that the European Parliament create a European-wide environmental protection agency. And in December 1989, the EEC agreed to end the export of toxic and nuclear wastes to the Third World, and 79 Third World nations agreed not to import wastes. The United States has not yet signed this agreement, and we continue to export more than 160,000 tons of toxic waste to Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and elsewhere.

But the unity of the European nations has even coerced the pro-business Bush administration towards global ecological responsibility. For example, on June 29th, 1990, in London, representatives of 95 countries agreed to phase out ozone-destroying chloroflourocarbons (CFCs) by the year 2000, and to establish a $240 million fund to support the Third World’s search for safer substituted for CFCs. For the first time, a limit was set on the elimination of two specific ozone-depleting gases.

European Integration: Model for Global Democracy

Czechoslovakia is for a new pan-European structure stretching westward from Vladivostock all the way to Alaska.

Vaclav Havel, Feb. 21, 1990

The all-important thing for us now is building a Common European Home.

Mikhail Gorbachev, Feb. 5, 1990

The United Nations was designed by U.S. bankers and State Department planners, and was always intended to remain a union of nation-states, not a transition to democratic world government. While at first the West had automatic majorities with which to ratify Cold War initiatives, as dozens of small, newly independent nations joined the body the electoral balance shifted in favor of the Communist bloc and the Third World. In the 60s and 70s, the U.N. developed the blueprints for the Law of the Sea, the New International Economic Order, and other radical democratic visions of world order. Consequently, the West, and particularly the U.S., refused to pay its share of costs and crippled U.N. agencies; currently the U.S owes the U.N. nearly $800 million dollars. In the 80s global enthusiasm for the U.N.’s potential dimmed as it struggled to survive. As long as the United Nations has such wide disparities between parliamentary representation, financial contributions, population, and geopolitical power, however, it is unlikely to ever be the basis of a democratic world governance with widespread legitimacy. Nor can a body that includes the appointees and apologists of sheiks and dictators be taken very seriously as a voice for human rights.

The European Parliament, on the other hand, is based on the principle of one person-one vote, and its parliamentarians are directly represented. Not only does the European Parliament give seats to nations proportional to their population, but (except for Britain) the delegations from each country are proportionate to the percentage of the vote each party receives within that country. It is in the European Parliament, and the united Europe as a whole, that the model of global governance and global socialism lie.

Membership in European Structures (as of 1990)

Austria M M
Belgium M M M M M M M
Bulgaria M
Cyprus M M
Czechoslov. M
Denmark M M M M M M M
Finland M
France M M M M M M M
Germany M M M M M M M
Greece M M M M
Hungary M
Iceland M M M
Ireland M M M M
Italy M M M M M M M
Liechtenstein M M
Luxembourg M M M M M M M
Malta M M
Monaco M
Netherlands M M M M M M M
Norway M M M
Poland M
Portugal M M M M 24 M M
Romania M
San Marino M M
Spain M M M M 60 M M
Sweden M M
Switzerland M M
Turkey M M M
Un. Kingdom M M M M 78 M M
Vatican M
Yugoslavia M
Canada M M
United States M M
  • CSCE Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe: (1975) To commit members states to recognize existing borders, respect human rights, and cooperate in science and culture.
  • Council of Europe (1949): To promote economic and social progress, and parliamentary democracy.
  • NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization (1949): To provide for collective security.
  • EEC European Economic Community (Common Market) (1957): To regulate trade within Europe. Governed by a council of ministers appointed by each member government.
  • European Parliament: (First direct elections in 1979): The political counterpart of the EEC, establishing European law. Elected from each member nation proportional to population, and proportional to the political lists within each country.
  • Court of Justice: (1949): Responsible for interpreting Euro-treaties, with authority to invalidate domestic laws.
  • WEU Western European Union (1949): The political counterpart of NATO, harmonizing security policy.

Building the Social Europe

Along with the rest of Europe’s political institutions after World War Two, the Socialist International was resurrected in 1951 in Frankfurt, Germany. It’s Frankfurt Declaration declared:

Democratic Socialism is international because it recognizes that no nation can solve all its economic and social problems in isolation. Absolute national sovereignty must be transcended.

Today the Socialist International (SI) has grown to have almost a hundred members from as many countries. Though the SI remains a loose alliance, the Confederation of Socialist Parties of the EEC, established in 1974 with a standing bureau in Brussels, has become a pivot for pan-European policy formation for the European Parliament and EEC. In the early 1980s, in cooperation with the United Nations, the Euro-socialists drew up plans for a new world economic order in the Brandt Commission Report, and for a new world security structure in the Palme Commission Report.

The collapse of Communism has immeasurably strengthened the SI. No longer is there a Communist menace with which to associate socialists, and no longer are there divisions within the world Left between communists and socialists. All of the newly democratic Eastern European countries have socialist parties who have applied to the SI for membership, in some cases more than one. The Social Democratic Association of the Soviet Union is projected by many to become a major opposition party to the Communists. Even more symbolic, the former Communist parties of Italy, East Germany, Bulgaria, and Hungary have changed their names and ideologies to seek admission to democratic socialism.

In the late 1980s, as the elimination of Europe’s trade barriers approached, the momentum of transnationalism increased as Europe’s socialists began to see that after 1992 even the most minimal welfare protections could only be guaranteed Europe-wide, a plan called “Social Europe.” EC President (and French Socialist) Jacques Delors has projected that by the late 1990s 80% of the economic and social legislation in Europe will be passed in Brussels, rather than in national legislatures.

But the creation of Social Europe requires (1) further ceding of national economic controls to European bodies, and (2) the strengthening of the European Parliament relative to the 12-member EC Council of Ministers. Towards the first end, Kohl and Mitterand have targeted 1993 for “political union” of Europe, a goal agreed to by all but Margaret Thatcher. At present, while unanimous agreements of the EC Council of Ministers are binding on member countries, unanimity is difficult to come by, and the European Court of Justice can enact few sanctions against member countries that ignore agreements. Political union will mean treaties that make clear that European legislation, including military affairs, are mandatory for all members. The agreement to create a central European bank and currency, for instance, will also impose binding limits on the national budget deficits of each country.

There is less consensus on the strengthening of the Euro-Parliament. Currently, while the Parliament has numerous committees developing U.N.-like programs and resolutions, its only formal power is to veto the EC budget and legislation. In effect, the Council of Ministers is a very strong Senate (one state-one vote), while the Parliament is a very weak House of Representatives (one person-one vote). And like the original United States Senate, the Ministers are appointed by their state governments, and not directly elected. Within the EC this situation has come to be called “the democratic deficit.” When that deficit is closed, the left will be in a much stronger position; in the 1989 European Parliament election, Socialists and Greens together won the majority of all the seats.

Socializing with the Transnationalists

The emergence of a global consciousness will not be the work of a decade. It is rather, the challenge of an entire epoch of history. If the new socialists understand these complexities, they will take visionary steps in the direction of a new world. No more. And no less.

Michael Harrington, Socialism: Past and Future (1989)

What can be done to grow from our nationalist, and at best internationalist, approaches to socialism to a transnationalist approach?

Replace Anti-Americanism with Support for World Law

The first step is to cut the Gordian knot that the nation-state places on most foreign policy dilemmas. While we cannot be happy about U.S. multilateralism that consists simply of sending in U.S. troops and then sending Europe and Japan the bill, we also cannot call for unilateral U.S. withdrawal without denying the legitimacy of the international desire to prevent aggression through multilateral military action. By calling for U.N. control of U.S. troops we can both uphold the principle of world law, and make U.S. military action less likely.

Similarly, we cannot be happy with unilateral U.S. action to selectively bring “democracy” to those small Latin American nations which have the temerity to cross the U.S. in some way. But we also contort ourselves into knots if we do not acknowledge that people who struggle for democracy have a right to be protected from military thugs and dictators. The Panamanian and Grenadian people had as much right to be liberated from their tyrants and have multi-party electoral democracy installed as Europe had to be freed from fascist imperialism in 1945. What we must fight for is a democratic world judiciary and legislature that will apply effective, universal standards of world law (not invading Panama while defending the Saudi dictatorship), but that will exhaust all diplomatic efforts before taking military action.

Work for a United Socialist North America

The Free Trade Zone between Canada and the U.S., created last year, includes more economic activity than the entire EEC. Now Mexico’s elites want to join the U.S. and Canada in a North American Free Trade Zone, encompassing 360 million people (the EEC currently encompasses only 320 million). American and Canadian companies are delighted to embrace Mexico, since Mexican workers make only about $4-$10 a day, and American and Canadian workers can be blackmailed into accepting lower wages to compete for jobs. Since the U.S.-Canada pact was signed in January 1989, Canada has already lost 150,000 manufacturing jobs to the U.S. and its weak labor movement, and the maquiladora corridor along the U.S.-Mexican border has already absorbed tens of thousands of American manufacturing jobs, without free trade.

It is consequently in the interests of workers in all three countries for Mexican workers to have fair labor and social welfare policies which improve their living conditions, thus making capital flight from the North less likely. Unfortunately the North American Left, rather than press on toward transnational economic policy through new trilateral structures, has generally opposed the free-trade agreements and their “surrender of national economic control.” But there are a few signs of transnationalist thinking.

For instance, July saw an official visit of the Rainbow Coalition to Mexico city to develop ties with the Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD). The PRD’s leader, Cuahutemoc Cardenas was elected President of Mexico in 1988, but was denied the office by massive vote fraud by the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Rainbow activists pointed out that many of the immigrants to the U.S. come from Mexican regions which are strongholds of Cardenismo, and that Mexican-Americans were essential part of the progressive coalition in the U.S. The meeting made plans for a 1992 forum in Atlanta as part of the “500 Years of Resistance” commemoration being planned to counter-point the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s “discovery.” According to the organizer of the tour, PRD leader Isabel Molina, previous efforts had been premature: “Only now have popular movements on both sides developed the means for relatively broad-based, authentic representation.”

Similarly, DSA has been expanding its ties with our Canadian sister, the New Democratic Party (NDP). In early September, the NDP forged beyond their traditional bases in Western Canada to win control of Ontario’s provincial legislature, which governs nearly half of Canada’s population. DSA and the NDP have been expanding exchanges between their adult and youth sections; in October, we will be co-hosting a Socialist International Bureau meeting in New York City, and on November 19th the DSA Youth Section and NDP Youth will coordinate the commemoration of an international day against racism. It is reassuring to know that the Canadian Mounties could be sent to the rescue of elected socialists in Ohio, Illinois or Michigan if we were threatened by a Chile-style counter-revolution.

Support the Campaigns for World Federation

Equally as visionary, but just as central to the future of socialism, are the campaigns for stronger world governance. Principal in this struggle has been the World Federalists Association. The World Federalists were founded in 1947 as part of the World Association for World Federation (WAWF). Early leaders included Alan Cranston, Albert Einstein, and Oscar Hammerstein. In the 1950s, many college campuses had World Federalist chapters, and the organization flourished, even though it was often accused of being a Communist front. In the 1960s, however, it began to appear quaint compared to the more radical and apocalyptic internationalist visions of the student movement. But its aging membership continued to work closely with U.N. circles for arms control, world law, U.N. reform, the Law of the Sea, and international development assistance. (The WAWF includes affiliates in most nations, as well as the Union of European Federalists and the Young European Federalists, which work toward strengthening world law and the European Parliament.)

The Federalists have been growing in recent years, under current director Norman Cousins, and now have 9000 dues-paid members in about 50 local chapters. The Federalists dozen staff are based in the WF-owned headquarters in Washington, while they run an active education and outreach program through offices in New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

The Campaign for U.N. Reform (418 7th St., Washington D.C., 20003), founded in 1975, is the lobbying arm of the World Federalists and related federalist groups. The Campaign is attempting to get the U.S. Congress and Executive to reform and strengthen the U.N., rather than simply cripple it. The Campaign calls for: (1) a shift away from the “one state-one vote” to voting systems weighted toward “one person-one vote”, and the restriction or elimination of the one country vetos in the Security Council; (2) the creation of an international disarmament agency, and the strengthening of agencies to deal with dispute resolution; (3) the creation of a permanent U.N. army; (4) empowering the U.N. to fund itself through suing countries for money they owe, and through levying taxes, licensing fees, trade levies, and pollution penalties on countries and corporations; (5) granting the World Court compulsory jurisdiction over domestic courts, and the expansion of the human rights watchdogs within the U.N.; (6) the expansion of the U.N. environmental agencies, and giving them power to enforce regulations; (7) the creation of Ocean and Space Authority to protect the seas and atmosphere from exploitation, and prevent conflict over these areas; and (8) the strengthening and democratization of the international economic agencies such as the IMF.

The Campaign was instrumental in getting Congress to establish the U.S. Commission on Improving the Effectiveness of the U.N., which includes the Federalists’ Director as one of its 16 members. Unfortunately the Commission has not yet been able to meet since Bush refuses to appoint his four members.

The United Nations Association of the USA (1010 Vermont Ave. #904, NW, Washington D.C.) is similarly “liberal” and “internationalist” in support for the U.N., while being dominated by Washington elites such Co-Chairmen Elliot Richardson, Cyrus Vance (Carter Secretary of State) and Max Kampelman (Reagan arms negotiator). With major corporate backing, the UNA-USA maintains 175 chapters, runs elite policy fora, produces educational materials, and publishes a U.N. newsletter, The Interdependent.

There are also “conservative” federalists, most importantly the Association to Unite the Democracies (AUD, 1506 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, D.C. 20003, The AUD founders were inspired by a book, Union Now: A Proposal for a Federal Union of the Leading Democracies, by Clarence Streit, the New York Times correspondent at the League of Nations. Many of its early members, such as George Marshall, were part of the circle of elites who designed the Marshall Plan, NATO and the European Community institutions. Its current board includes Republican Senator Mark Hatfield and several other former Congressmen, military officers, and judges, and conservative internationalist foreign policy intellectuals.

The AUD remains committed to world federalism, to be brought about through five steps: (1) a joint parliamentary assembly of the industrial democracies, modeled after the European Parliament; (2) A Marshall Plan for Eastern Europe; (3) A Human Rights Court for the signers of the Helsinki accords; (4) a common currency; and (5) an international constitutional convention. Though the AUD is clearly progressive in its internationalism, its focus on strengthening Euro-American “democratic” solidarity, including NATO, served to position it against the inclusion of Eastern Europe and the Third World. With the world-wide spread of democracy, however, it no longer appears “conservative” to require that participants in world federalist structures hold free, multi-party elections to their domestic and international legislatures. The Association publishes an excellent newsletter, The Federator.

In November 1989, the Alliance for Our Common Future (c/o National Peace Institute Foundation, 110 Maryland Ave. N.E., Washington D.C. 20002), a broad coalition of progressive American organizations, formed to bring pressure on the U.S. to support the U.N., arms control, and sustainable development. The Alliance includes most of the church-based foreign policy offices, the World Federalists and other federalist groups, SANE/FREEZE and Beyond War, and a variety of progressive think-tanks and lobbies.

You can follow the various campaigns for world federalism by subscribing to World Democracy News, 260 16th #1, SE, Washington D.C. 20003–1552 ($8/2 issues/year).

Fly an Earth Flag and Pledge Allegiance to the Earth

Have you been in a quandry about the flag-burning debate, distressed both at nationalistic tub-thumping of the flag defenders, and the elitist disregard of popular sentiment of the flag-burners? Short circuit the debate and fly a beautiful image of the earth from space, painted on a blue background. Better yet, get your local institutions to fly them: Wheaton College raised the Earth Flag at their 1989 convocation, and now it flies there daily. And on April 22, 1990 a team of U.S., Soviet and Chinese mountain climbers planted the Earth Flag on the peak of Mount Everest. The flags come in 3'x5' ($39 each), 2'x3' ($20 each), and 6"x9" ($3.75 each) with great savings on bulk orders. To order, write Earth Flag Co., PO Box 108, Middleville, NJ 07855.

You can also express your transcendence of the Pledge debate by reciting the Pledge written by the Women’s Foreign Policy Council of New York: “I pledge allegiance to the Earth, and to the flora, fauna, and human life that it supports, one planet, indivisible, with safe air, water and soil, economic justice, and peace for all.”

J. Hughes is a graduate student at the University of Chicago, editor of the DSA Environmental Commission newsletter EcoSocialist Review, and political education director of Chicago DSA.

  • An excellent history of Euro-socialists’ approach to internationalism and European unification is found in Kevin Featherstone’s 1988 Socialist Parties and European Integration: A Comparative History. Manchester University Press/St. Martin’s Press.



James J. Hughes PhD

James J. Hughes is Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, and a research fellow at UMass Boston’s Center for Applied Ethics.